A principal author of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison began his political career on the Orange County, VA, Committee for Safety in 1774. Two years later, he was elected to the Virginia convention that voted for independence and drafted a state constitution. During 1778 and 1779, he served on a council of state under Governors Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.
Madison was elected to the Continental Congress and became a leader of the "nationalist group," which advocated a strong central government. At the Constitutional Convention, he was a strong proponent of an independent federal court system, a bicameral legislature, and a strong executive. He also argued that a wide variety of interests in a large republic would tend to balance and counteract each other, and a public interest would eventually emerge. Working to support the Constitution, he contributed articles to the Federalist Papers.
Serving in the new U.S. House of Representatives from 1789, he sponsored the Bill of Rights and was one of Washington's chief advisors. He left Congress in 1797. As a private citizen, Madison drafted the Virginia Resolutions in opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts of John Adams's administration. In 1801 he was appointed secretary of state by Thomas Jefferson. Madison guided the negotiations that resulted in the Louisiana Purchase.
Madison easily won the presidency in 1808. Less charismatic than Jefferson, party unity was diminished. During his presidency was the War of 1812, which took a sudden turn for the British with the defeat of Napoleon in Europe, releasing troops for service in America. The American forces defended the Niagara frontier, but Washington was captured by the British and burned. Soon thereafter, the British were defeated in Baltimore Harbor and turned back in their invasion of New York state via Lake Champlain.
With peace behind him, Madison proposed wide-ranging domestic programs, such as the rechartering of the Bank of the United States, a tariff to protect new industries, creation of a national university, and federal support for roads and canals. After leaving the presidency, he returned to his Virginia home. Later, he helped Jefferson found the University of Virginia.